Philosophy Psychology of Success

Customer or Client?


Who is my customer?

Physicians in many medical specialties struggle with that question.

You have many customers, from referral sources to patients to hospitals. But, for any group that has an exclusive contract, the hospital is the most important client. That’s not because patient treatment isn’t at the center of your physician universe. It’s because if your group is dependent upon contracts with facilities, the loss of that contract means you won’t be treating patients.

Physicians, especially medical group leaders, need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Again, this is not to denigrate patient treatment. Rather, it’s to emphasize the importance of the central role of entrepreneurial thinking: Creating value for others. After all, if you don’t deliver value, there will be no payment, whether in funds or in kind.

But it’s occurred to me that “customer” is the wrong word. Customer means “someone who purchases a commodity or service.” Commodity! That’s about the last concept that we want to think about in this context. Even the concept of “purchase” is wrong, as it indicates a temporary, transactional event when we’re looking for long term relationships.

Instead, think of referral sources, patients and hospitals (especially their administrators) as “clients:” “Someone that is under the protection of another.”  That’s consistent with delivering entrepreneurial value, that is, value from the perspective of the recipient.

Just words, you say? Words frame our way of thinking.

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